The other day I was channel surfing--which is odd, because outside of the 8-10pm bloc on MSNBC and a few other things I follow, I don't watch a lot of television. However, I came across an episode of Jack Webb's Dragnet in its 1967-1970 NBC color incarnation and stopped for a minute to look at the world at the time I was born as portrayed on television. Then, intellectual curiosity got the better of me and I searched teh Google for "Jack Webb, Dragnet" because I knew that there had to be something written about the father of modern "police procedurals" and crime dramas. Well, that idle intellectual curiosity payed off, big time. I'll tell you about it after the fold...
Who is Jack Webb and what is "Dragnet"?
For anyone not old enough to remember, Jack Webb was a radio, television and film actor and producer who created a series for radio called Dragnet (1949-1957) and on TV in the 50's and again in the late 60's. It was a police procedural based often on actual cases from the LA police department. Marked by its lack of melodrama (by the standards of its day) and willingness to show the drudgery of mundane police work and the cooperation of actual veteran law enforcement consultants and later the cooperation of the LA police department itself, Dragnet became the daddy of all police dramas and the grandfather of things like the Law and Order franchise. Its star and producer, Jack Webb, did much hands-on research, including taking classes in criminal justice and shadowing police officers. For its day, it was a novel concept.
Much of the criticism of Webb and his Dragnet is well-deserved, some not. He was pretty conservative, yet at the same time tackled issues like drug addiction and homelessness and prostitution on the air when no one else would do so in a straightforward manner. He was also very concerned with cultivating a positive public view of the police at the expense of some harsh realities, and I'll leave further comment on that to those who were not infants in the late 60's like I was.
One of the interesting things about this program is that it had the active cooperation (for parts of its run) of the LA police. Some propaganda ensued, of course, but at least one thing came of it: The LA police chief and Jack Webb took on the NRA because both of them were concerned about the folly of giving guns to kids.
Here's the money shot, courtesy of Wikipedia:
Dragnet broke one of the unspoken (and still rarely broached) taboos of popular entertainment in the episode ".22 Rifle for Christmas" which aired December 22, 1949 and was repeated at Christmastime for the next three years. The episode followed the search for two young boys, Stanley Johnstone and Stevie Morheim, only to discover Stevie had been accidentally killed while playing with a rifle that belonged to Stanley—who'd be receiving it as a Christmas present but opened the box early; Stanley finally told Friday that Stevie was running while holding the rifle when he tripped and fell, causing the gun to discharge, fatally wounding Morheim. NBC received thousands of complaint letters, including a formal protest by the National Rifle Association. Webb forwarded many of the letters to police chief Parker who promised "ten more shows illustrating the folly of giving rifles to children".That's right: in the late 1940's a popular radio star highlighted the danger of giving guns to kids, and when protested by the NRA got the chief of the LAPD to give them the finger. 1949.
Dragnet doesn't wear very well today, all of its spawn notwithstanding. However I think this illustrates that the NRA has been a bad actor for a very long time. 1949 was 64 years ago. Sixty-four. Years. Ago.
There are still people today giving guns to five year olds, and there are still children dying.
Love him or hate him, Jack Webb did us a public service, and so did Chief Parker of the LAPD.
The entire Wikipedia entry is HERE.. "All we need is the facts, ma'am. "